by Matt Weik
I hate to say it, but new innovation in the sports nutrition space is few and far between. There’s a lot of “me too” products launched and copycatting being done. Very rarely can we say there is something new, innovative, or industry-changing. Well, Campus Protein has seemed to do just that. While I wouldn’t say their business is in any way innovative, it’s the business model itself that has me applauding.
Entrepreneurs are those who seek out a problem and work towards fixing it. When it comes to college students and their non-existent disposable income, utilizing supplements has become a battle of if they wanted to eat and party or spend what little money they had on supplements. In came Campus Protein to help solve the problem.
Lose to Win
As a college student, Russell Saks and a few of his friends were struggling to buy supplements they wanted due to the costs. They were spending anywhere from $200 to $300 per month and many people around them were complaining that their supplement purchases were cutting into their “drinking money.” Russell and his friends began purchasing supplements and selling them to people on campus at a loss to help build their reputation. In essence, he was losing money with every transaction but in the end, he was starting to build traction as “the place” to buy supplements on the Indiana University campus. This idea eventually turned into the business and brand, Campus Protein.
Even when Russell and his crew started Campus Protein, they were still losing money consistently. They looked to secure a deal with a big distributor but even then, due to their small purchasing power, would need to sell products to the distributor at a loss just to compete in the market. Eventually, over time, the Campus Protein crew was able to shift their buying power and improve their margins to start profiting.
A Personal Touch
When Russell started asking around campus as to why people were going to brick and mortar locations to buy their supplements and not shopping online, they mentioned that it was the personal experience from going to a physical location where they could ask questions to choose the right products based on their individual needs.
Now, for me, this is where I’m going to deviate from their model and disagree to an extent. These days, people who shop at places like GNC, in my opinion, are getting terrible customer service and a terrible customer experience. If you want to be pressured to buy something you don’t want or need, go visit your local GNC store. Sales associates are pushing junk that increases their margins and commission and not truly selling products that will benefit the customer. It can’t be said for every location, but a good chunk of them are horrible places to shop. Mom and pop locations are generally a little better to shop at because they tend to care more about the customer and their results (and building a relationship) rather than pushing out the door the newest and shiniest product to hit the market (that happens to be junk).
Additionally, I don’t find many people care about the customer experience anymore. People are price shopping and going to places like Amazon in order to save money. Customers no longer care about physically touching and feeling a product before making a purchase and many of them go off of online reviews (which most are fake reviews) for their purchasing behaviors due to ease. You don’t need to drive anywhere and the product is delivered to your doorstep. Online shopping is about convenience and overall convenience is where many markets are growing (heck, you can now have your grocery list delivered to your door without the need to go to the grocery store).
With all of that being said, Russell and his Campus Protein crew gained insight from students and found that they actually needed that personal touch as many of them were new to supplements and had no idea what to purchase. This then created another area of their business where they would have Campus Protein representatives on every campus they did business with so that the representative could help students figure out what supplements they were in need of based on their goal and then allowed them to purchase off of their website. So, while the personal touch works in this model, it is not the norm for the industry anymore (and they are still pushing customers to purchase from their website versus a physical location).
Creating Their Own Market
Campus Protein was onto something with their business model. No other supplement retailer was specifically targeting the college demographic. Was it a matter of they didn’t think marketing towards college students would be profitable due to their restricted disposable income? Maybe? Regardless, Campus Protein capitalized on the opportunity and has secured the market.
The business model has taken off and Campus Protein has somewhat of a cult following in the college community. With representatives and ambassadors being the soldiers on the front line, they are constantly getting their brand recognized and growing among college campuses across the nation. Whether you’re looking to purchase a pre-workout, protein powder, RTD, protein bar, BCAA, creatine, fat burner, testosterone booster, you name it, they are willing to sell it to you – you don’t even need to be a college student anymore to purchase from them.
They are currently on over 300 college campuses and have over 1,200 campus reps going out to help sell their products to college students. Their growth has provided them with the ability to have several Campus Protein warehouses across the US. These locations include a warehouse in California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, and Connecticut.
I would by no means say their pricing is bad or way off from other retailers in the market. Yet, the Campus Protein product selection is somewhat limited (at least at this stage but then again, they aren’t looking to cater to everyone with their product selection). For the majority of the consumers out there, Campus Protein would fit their needs with the products they sell. If you’re looking for an extremely niche product or brand, you probably won’t find it available at Campus Protein.
Campus Protein allows people to apply to become a campus rep. There are many perks that come along with this such as the possibility of being included in their social media marketing campaigns and potentially be asked to work with them at expos such as the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio. While not everyone will be selected, anyone and everyone has the ability to toss their hat in the ring and apply.
Additionally, Campus Protein is doing something pretty cool with their loyalty program. You have the ability to be rewarded for supporting their business and spreading the word about Campus Protein. All users need to do is apply for their rewards program. From there, they can earn points with every purchase as well as earning points for spreading the news about what’s going on with Campus Protein and recommending their brand to friends. Some of the ways you can earn points are by giving reviews, creating an account, making a purchase, following them on Instagram, sharing things on Facebook, visiting their Facebook page, following them on Twitter, and even getting free points on your birthday. These points accumulate under your account and can then be used and redeemed towards future purchases. This can be anything from a discount to free shipping.
You can take your rewards potential to the next level by moving up in “status.” For instance, a “supplement student” provides you with 1.25x points on purchases. A “professor protein” moves up to 1.5x points and a “PhD in gains” bumps you up to 2x points. The more you purchase and points you earn in a year the higher your status will go.
Overall, Campus Protein is taking the college market by storm and it doesn’t appear that anyone is looking to take that way from them. They created their own market and while the business has grown to more mainstream, they still control the college market and don’t look to be slowing down any time soon. You can make a one-time purchase or set it and forget it with a designated delivery schedule such as once a month or once every other month.
As time passes, I can only assume Campus Protein will add more products, add more ways to be rewarded, and continue to earn the business of college students across the US. Personally, I wish them the best and want to congratulate them on all of their success to date. It goes to show that you can take a business started out of a dorm room and build it up to become a huge national business.